Wednesday, August 24, 2005

You Could Look It Up

Over the past few weeks, that old Casey Stengel adage, "You could look it up," has popped up more than Kevin Millar. As much baseball as I watch, I still see something now and then that I've never seen before, or that I didn't know could even happen. But lately, it seems as though there have been more nows than thens.

Two weeks ago in Los Angeles, the Phillies and Dodgers were tied 0-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth inning. Phillies pitcher Robinson Tejeda walked the leadoff batter, Cesar Izturis. Next up: a rookie to keep an eye on, Oscar Robles. With a one ball, one strike count, Izturis took off for second base, and Robles smacked a single to left field, with Izturis ending up on third. A well executed hit-and-run play? Even better than that--the pitch that Robles hit bounced in front of the plate before he hit it. Put aside the hand-eye coordination needed to successfully hit the ball off a bounce in such a way as to not put the base runner in jeopardy. Put aside the team-first attitude that says, "I'm going to follow the third base coach's signs, no matter what." I had never before seen a player get a hit off a pitch that bounced before reaching the plate. I didn't even know that you could. As it turns out, you can. Check out the clip, "Robles singles off a bounce" listed under August 9th (click the 350K; if you're still using dial-up, you can probably wait for the year-end highlights video to come out):

That very same night, during the Yankees-White Sox game on YES, Yankees announcer Michael Kay made me question what was possible in the game of base. Now this wasn't a typical Kay bombastic call, making a routine ground out sound like the final out of Game Seven of the World Series (been a while). Nor was it one of his shameless promotions of the Yankees and Yankee programming ("No true Yankee fan will want to miss Yankeeography: Scott Proctor, playing in an endless loop between the Nissan postgame show and tomorrow night's pregame."). Kay, who more and more tries to provide analysis along with his (greatest) play (you'll ever see) by (greatest) play (you'll ever see), said of the White Sox, roughly, "They won't beat you by outscoring you." Is that right? All smoke and mirrors then? Though it's an admittedly small sample size, I went back through the White Sox season, and in all 75 of their wins so far, they have outscored their opponents, while in all 47 of their losses, they have been outscored. Perhaps it's a coincidence.

Later that week, the Mets were in San Diego, playing an afternoon game against the Padres. Tied 1-1 entering the bottom of the 7th, the Padres pinch hit for starting pitcher Woody Williams with David Ross. With a 2-2 count against Tom Glavine, Ross took a swing. I was following the game on MLB Gameday, and the text came across as: David Ross triples (1) on a pop up to second baseman Kazuo Matsui. The screen didn't update for a long time after this, leaving me to wonder how a pinch-hitting catcher hit his first triple of the season on a pop up to second. While waiting for the screen to update, I shared this with a Mets fan at work, and asked him how that could happen. His response: "Matsui stinks." When all was finally updated, the real reasoning for the strange play description was hardly funny, as this was the play on which right fielder Mike Cameron and center fielder Carlos Beltran collided in the outfield, chasing down Ross's shallow pop. But because of the limited options that the game editors at have to describe the action on a given play, for a few minutes, given all the bizarre things that have happened to the Mets this year, it seemed like it might actually be possible to triple to second. Ya gotta believe.

Last week, the New York Daily News reported that the Yankees were close to signing Ruben Rivera to a contract. The one-time can't miss prospect will be getting his third crack at the Yankees, the last one cut short when Rivera couldn't miss stealing Derek Jeter's glove and selling it to a memorabilia dealer during Spring Training in 2002. He was also caught stealing twice that year while a member of the Texas Rangers, though that had more to do with the opposing catchers. Trying to allay concerns of a recurrence, Yankees' GM Brian Cashman said, "[Rivera's] been in Derek's house since then." It's unknown whether Jeter was home at the time.

Lastly, I want to point out a multi-talented player. Playing baseball at the Major League level requires such commitment, such focus, that it is always impressive when a player can achieve mastery of another field at the same time. Bronson Arroyo and Bernie Williams are accomplished guitar players who have released records. John Burkett was a renowned (to the extent that's possible) bowler, with multiple 300s attached to his name. Mike Piazza is an ardent supporter of heterosexual rights. And during last week's Mets-Pirates series at Shea Stadium, we saw that last year's National League Rookie of the Year has some non-baseball talent as well. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Jason Bay, king of ballet:

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

JARring Results

I certainly was surprised, not to mention extremely disappointed, when I found out that Rafael Palmeiro had tested positive for steroids. I had always thought of him as one of the better people in the game, and his testimony before Congress earlier this year seemed to support my suspicions that he was, indeed, a decent man who achieved his success through hard work and natural ability.

Palmeiro was, before this year anyway, an underrated player who shone somewhat less brightly than the upper echelon of stars. This was partly because of his reserved nature, and partly because despite his impressive career totals and consistency, he never dominated in any one season or facet of the game. I used to think that this lack of a superstar year or years was because he didn't take steroids. He didn't expand suddenly, or have the boom and bust cycles of others who suddenly muscled up in the offseason with a fresh 25 pounds of steak. Of course, half of the players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs this year have been pitchers, so there's clearly more involved than bulk (recovery, drugs other than steroids, etc.).

Now Palmeiro's star has fallen, and the Hall of Fame caliber numbers that he has produced with that sweet lefty swing are being consumed by the black hole of his mouth. Every time he speaks, and tries to qualify one of his prior statements about things he has never done, he shrinks further in stature. The more he protests, the less flukey this seems.

Of his testing positive Palmeiro said on Monday, "It makes no sense. I would not put my career on the line. I would not put my reputation on the line. I'm not a crazy person. I'm not stupid." That certainly makes it seem like this was all an accident, that he unintentionally digested something that tripped the test wires. But if it's an accident, why is he apologizing?

And here are some other questions about Raffy: When did this test occur? When did he appeal? When did the arbitrator hear his case? How was he able to focus during the media spotlight leading up to his 3000th hit? Was that bittersweet? When did he take the substance? Has it impacted this current season (though his numbers are pretty decent for the year, .280 batting average, 18 home runs, 59 runs batted in, through May 9th, he was batting .222, with 1 home run and 7 runs batted in)? How many Palmeiro jerseys were sold around the time of his historic hit, and did that have anything to do with holding up the result?

It may be unfair to speculate like that, but he has opened a can of worms, a neverending inquiry into all he's accomplished to date and all those who knew about his positive test before this Monday. He's like an A student getting caught cheating in his final semester. It makes you wonder about that freshman biology grade.

We may never get full answers to these questions, and Major League Baseball's process does not make it any clearer. Who has been tested already, and how many results have yet to be processed? What have they actually tested positive for? Steroids or another banned substance? Who controls this information, and its flow? This question is key, because as the results drip in slowly, you can see an interesting pattern developing. Look at the people who have been caught, chronologically: Alex Sanchez, Jorge Piedra, Agustin Montero, Jamal Strong, Juan Rincon, Rafael Betancourt, Rafael Palmeiro, Ryan Franklin.

Notice anything? All of the players' first names start with either A, J, or R. Now it's an admittedly small sample size, but could MLB actually be going alphabetically here, testing/releasing/announcing in a less than random pattern? The last three...Rafael, Rafael and Ryan...where's Random?

I have no idea how MLB administers these tests, or how many have been done, or how many remain to be announced, or whether anyone with a name starting with B, K or S has been tested yet. And that's just the point. MLB needs to open up this process, and give more information about where they are, what remains to be done, and how it is being done. Until then, there will be nothing but wasted speculation. Major League Baseball has a bitter pill to swallow. It should come clean about how it is cleaning up the game.